Bills LB Tyrel Dodson reflects on road to NFL: ‘I wasn’t even supposed to be here’


They’re emotions that we’ve all felt before.

Anxiousness. Frustration. A sense of humbleness brought on by humility.

One of these emotions, in and of itself, is enough to ruin a day, but when they’re stacked on top of one another, they’re enough to make someone question everything; the decisions that brought them up to that point, their life path, even themselves.

Tyrel Dodson is familiar with these emotions.

He felt them at a time that was supposed to be joyous, the culmination of his young life’s work. When Dodson, a former linebacker at Texas A&M, opted out of his senior season and declared for the 2019 NFL Draft, he never expected that his phone would go without a single call throughout the three-day event.

He had a reason for such confidence. He was just 20 years old at the time, and given his athletic profile, seemed more than deserving of a late-round flier.’s Lance Zierlein had a sixth-to-seventh round grade on Dodson. The Draft Network gave him a fifth-round grade.

Being drafted wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when. But as day three of the 2019 draft came to a close, it was becoming clear that Dodson would not hear his name called.

Frustration, as one could expect, took over Dodson, something that almost caused him to make a rash decision as NFL teams started to express interest in signing him as an undrafted free agent. It wasn’t until he took a deep breath and reassessed his options that he came to what has proven to be a life-altering conclusion:

he wanted to be a Buffalo Bill.

“You know what was going through my mind [at the end of the draft],” Dodson told Cover 1. “I thought I was one of the best available at the position at the time. I guess they thought otherwise. What was going through my head, what was process[ing], I was actually going to sign with Oakland. I guess me and my mom and my agent had a different conversation, I guess being with the rest of the guys, I wasn’t really thinking clearly at the time because I was just mad and I was frustrated, stuff like that. I think we took a couple of minutes just to calm me down and stuff like that.

“I made a logical decision, I was like, Buffalo is up and coming, it’s a different spot, stuff like that. I honestly thought I was coming to a perfect position, just with, I knew Buffalo needed some depth at the time, and just help at the linebacker spot. I think I made the right decision with it.”

After being passed over 254 times in the draft, Dodson was eager to prove that every team in the NFL had made a mistake, to show that he had what it took to contribute in the league straight away.

But he would never get that opportunity.

In late May of 2019, Dodson was arrested on charges of domestic assault and disorderly conduct in Scottsdale, AZ. He ultimately pled guilty to “misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges,” per ESPN, with Buffalo general manager Brandon Beane saying that “[the] organization did not find any signs of domestic violence,” per the outlet.

The NFL would later suspend Dodson for the first six games of the 2019 season, with the linebacker spending the first part of his rookie season on the Commissioner-Exempt list as a result. That November, the Bills signed Dodson to their practice squad.

“It’s not a secret,” Dodson said. “It’s something everyone knows, it’s out there. Everyone knows what I went through, that situation. Coming to the facility and just giving it all I got, especially, I was at the MIKE position, so I have to call different calls, and I’ve just got to be there to make sure that everyone is aligned, the defense is straight. I’m going through difficult times outside the facility, then I have to come in the facility and smile.

“I think I really did a good job. I’d take hats off to my older stuff now, that I didn’t let the outside noise really, really mess with my on-the-field game, and I didn’t feel sorry for myself. I sucked it up and dealt with the trials and tribulations up front and I think I did a very good job with the adversity I went through at that moment at a young age.”

Dodson never got an opportunity to play in his rookie season, ending the year on Buffalo’s practice squad.

But even through all of the adversity faced – the legal issues, the weight of going through a rookie season as an undrafted free agent, the difficulties of moving to a new and unknown part of the country – Dodson still learned something about himself in his first professional campaign, a crucial piece of information that is still fueling him today:

that he belongs.

“I think that moment happened my rookie year,” Dodson said. “I think if my circumstances were different, I think I would’ve been a huge contributor my rookie year for the Bills defense. God had other plans. It honestly clicked my rookie year, just at training camp. I was like, ‘I got it,’ I just have to keep having it and continue to grow [in] other ways other than being very smart. It kind of clicked my rookie year, when I knew I had it.”

Dodson proved that everything had clicked for him in his rookie season in his second training camp. He entered summer workouts as a longshot to make the roster, an unknown entity on the field with baggage off it.

By the time the regular season rolled around, he was the No.2 middle linebacker on the depth chart.

And he wouldn’t have to wait long to see his first professional action. Starting middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds picked up a shoulder injury in Buffalo’s 2020 season opener and was ruled out of the team’s Week 2 matchup with the Miami Dolphins two days before kickoff.

Even knowing that he would likely see considerable playing time, that he was, in all likelihood, going to start in his second career game, Dodson found it difficult to emotionally prepare.

“It really didn’t hit me until I walked out into the stadium,” Dodson said. “I get emotional, because I just thought about this time last year, I wasn’t even thought of. I wasn’t even supposed to be here. A lot of people thought I wouldn’t be there, you see what I’m saying? A lot of people thought it was over for me. A lot of people that I saw turn their back on me, they were there when I was starting. That’s how the life works, and it’s okay, and stuff like that. But I knew I was ready.

“That was my first game playing linebacker, I think since college. I was excited. I know what I have in me. I know what Coach Bob [Babich], Coach Bob was very excited for me. I know he believes in me a lot. He’s probably the reason why I’m growing as a player and a man. Week 2 was special to me.”

Dodson was effective in the Bills’ Week 2 win over Miami, tallying six tackles and two pass deflections while playing on 98.7% of the team’s defensive snaps. He showed some promise in the win, showing vision while defending the run and athleticism while in coverage.

He was far from flawless in the game, occasionally biting too heavily on play-action amongst other hiccups, but he was solid.

He delivered on, and exceeded, any expectations that one could have for an undrafted linebacker playing in his second career game.

A mid-season stint on the injured reserve list prevented Dodson from being a consistent contributor, but when he was healthy, he was on the field. He finished the season with 172 defensive snaps and another 139 on special teams, an area of the game in which he hopes to continue to grow.

“[I want to] be an ace on special teams, be one of the best special teams players,” Dodson said. “I’m trying to get there with Tyler [Matakevich], making all that money.”

Dodson’s story, while already chapters long, is still largely unwritten. He’s only 22-years-old. He’s made mistakes in the past, but he feels he’s learned from them. He’s coming off a solid sophomore season and has a legitimate chance to crack Buffalo’s 53-man roster yet again.

His short-and-long-term goals range from logical to ambitious – from making the team, because “we can’t do other stuff without making the team,” to adding more speed to his game after dropping “eight-to-10” pounds in the offseason, to becoming the world’s first NFL player-slash-Call of Duty Warzone professional.

But there’s an overarching goal, one that stems from that fateful April 2019 evening in which he was consistently passed over, that he’s eager to achieve:

“Honestly, when my name is called, [my goal is] showing the whole 32 teams that Tyrel Dodson is a starting NFL linebacker,” he said.

“I think I am, and I’m just going to continue to prove to people that I can be that.”

Full interview: